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Ex-teammate knows homer zone
04/14/2004  3:56 AM ET
SAN FRANCISCO -- Matt Williams knows what it's like to hit homers on a record pace, having become the first National League player to hit 40 by the end of July in 1994.

Clearly, he's definitely been in the homer zone before. But not like Barry Bonds has been for going on five years now.

"I've never seen a better player in my life," Williams said Tuesday when he returned to San Francisco for the first time since his retirement last year. "I got a chance to hit behind him for three years, or in front of him for a period of time, too, and I've never seen anything like it."

And that was several years before Bonds' recent incredible run of homers.

Williams says his potential quest for Roger Maris' then-record of 61 just wasn't the same as what Bonds has been going through, first with the run to the single-season record of 73 in 2001 and now with his ascent up among the elite of home run hitters in history.

"It didn't really get to the point, not even close to the point, with me where Barry is now, but the questions every day started to filter in," said Williams, who had 43 when a work stoppage halted the '94 season. "[Reporters] would ask me every day, 'Can you do it?' There's no real answer."

Actually, Williams reminds all that the momentum wasn't really his at the point games halted.

"People forget that during the '94 season, the hottest guy on our team was Barry, and he hit 38," Williams said. "He hit I don't know how many that week prior, so if we had continued, he probably would have passed me by leaps and bounds."

Williams, who also played for Cleveland and won a World Series ring with Arizona, still has his heart in San Francisco. He was on hand to throw out a ceremonial first pitch, wearing a Giants jersey again with No. 9 on the back.

"I bleed black and orange. I always will," Williams said. "I'm not afraid to say it. This city is where I grew up as a baseball player. This is where I learned to play. This is where I had fantastic teaching, and this is where I became a man in the game of baseball. I have many, many fond memories here, and a lot of appreciation for a lot of people who helped me."

While Bonds continues his climb up the homer charts, Williams retired during the season last year when injuries and age caught up with him. At 38, he's a tad younger than Bonds, but as a four-time Gold Glove winner at third base, he spent a lot more time throwing his body to the ground than Bonds.

As competitive as they come, Williams has learned to turn the switch off now that he's away from the game.

"My brain sometimes misses it, but my body doesn't," Williams said. "It gets to the point where it's difficult to get it up every day and go every day, so my body doesn't miss it. I didn't know what to do with myself in late February this year."

Naturally, as Williams discussed not only his own career transition from hard-core ballplayer to part-time radio host and full-time father in Phoenix, the issue of steroids and how it relates to Bonds came up. Williams didn't back away from sharing his views.

The sentiment he made most clear is that he's just rooting for the sport to come out of the specter of steroids and the focus to get back in total to the game and its players.

"We live in a great age in this game," Williams said. "We're seeing records broken. We're seeing a lot of players that are going to get into the Hall of Fame at the end of their careers, and that's a good thing. It was in good shape. This really set it back, though.

"From a player's perspective and a fan's perspective, I think we just want to get it all over with and go, keep playing, get this out of the way and be able to enjoy the game. The game, for all of us who played, has given us everything we have, so we want to make sure it's healthy and make sure it's headed in the right direction."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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